ICT4D: mainstreaming the marginalised in Pakistan

Workshop 2It was great to be back in Islamabad to participate in the second two-day workshop organised by the Inter-Islamic Network on Information Technology and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology with the assistance of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, and held on 5th and 6th October.  It was fascinating to see the progress that has been made in Pakistan since the first such workshop that we convened in January 2016,  particularly in terms of policy making, awareness, and entrepreneurial activity.  It was also very good to see such a diverse group of participants, including academics, entrepreneurs, civil society activities, government officials, and representatives of bilateral donors engaging in lively discussions throughout both days about how best we can turn rhetoric into reality.

Following the official opening ceremony, there were seven main sessions spread over two days:

  • shahUnderstanding the ICT4D landscape, in which the main speaker was Dr. Ismail Shah, the Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority
  • The road to facilitation: financial technologies for the marginalised, with a plenary given by Qasif Shahid (FINJA) about making payments frictionless, free and real time.
  • Addressing the digital gender gap, at which the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about why this is a pressing concern, and it gave a chance for him to tdiscusst the new UN-led EQUALS initiative for gender equality in a digital age, as well as some of the challenges that face women in using ICTs (slide deck).
  • No tech to low tech to high tech: an entrepreneur’s tale, with a plenary by Muhammad Nasrulla (CEO INTEGRY).
  • disability panelServing the most marginalised: accessibility and disability, with a plenary by David Banes on access and inclusion using ICTs, which included a very useful framework for considering digital accessibility issues.
  • Developing technologies for the rural/urban slum needs, during which Muhammad Mustafa spoke about his vision of enabling all 700 million illiterate adults in the world to go online through his Mauqa Online initiative.
  • Educating the marginalised, where the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about educating marginalised children (slide deck) and Shaista Kazmi from Vision 21 described their Speed Literacy Program.

Each session combined enthusiastic discussion around the themes addressed by the plenary speakers, and it was excellent to learn from all those involved  about using ICTs in very practical ways to deliver on the needs of poor and marginalised people and communities in Pakistan.

Atiq and AlberFull details of the event can be found on the INIT site, where copies of the slide decks from each main presentation will also be available.  Very many thanks go to all of the organisers, especially Tahir Naeem, Akber Gardezi and Muhammad Atiq from COMSATS IIT and INIT for all of the hard work that they put into making the event a success.  We look forward to convening the next such workshop in about a year’s time, once again bringing together people from all backgrounds intent on using ICTs to support Pakistan’s most marginalised communities.

Localising and Contextualising Access Technologies

Volume 2    Issue 3    March 2017

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has highlighted the importance of prioity assistive technologies to ensure the needs of people with a disability are met globally. Addressing this need requires a combination of innovative new solutions and the localisation in new communities of existing ones.  Localisation can be described as the linguistic and cultural adaptation of digital content to the requirements of a specific cultural market and GALA suggest that is beyond simply translation and includes other conventions such as date, time, currency, number formats, text, images, colour symbols, flow of information and product functionality. In order to complete such localisation there is a need to understand the differences between cultures and the problems that are likely to occur as a result. In seeking to address the global needs for assistive and accessible technologies such processes need to be recognised and considered. In truth, any definition of Universal design that fails to take account of culture and language cannot truly be referred to as Universal.

Our work in developing a framework for this in the Arab world has been based upon the practical experience of localising over 40 assistive technologies to support Arabic, working with developers to transition their technology, and with investment to mitigate any risks. The framework established has been effective in delivering in both the commercial and Open Source spheres. Full details of the Mada framework are available online alongside a downloadable summary of the key factors, which include the need to: 1) address design; 2) understand the language; 3) outline and address technical issues; 4) consider individual needs; and 5) deliver through partnerships

There is value in the clear discovery of requirements and local needs, generating a design that respects culture and language and recognises any impact on content. Great care should be taken with translation, which may be strengthened through the addition of a glossary and by engaging with both local translators and linguists.

Developers recognise a need to establish a consistent style regardless of the local version of a product. Later localisation is facilitated if a clear style guide for design is developed which includes the use of universal graphics and icons wherever possible. Testing with potential users, provides feedback that forms the basis of further development including both maintenance and updates. In the Tawasol project, (creative commons symbol dictionary for Arabic speakers) the engagement of users was central to design. The community was at the heart of the process of review and testing through a combination of approaches including face to face and focus group sessions to discuss and vote on design options, alongside an online voting and management system that allowed users and professionals to give continuous feedback.

The delivery of successful, innovative technology solutions for people with a disability requires full consideration of these issues and implementation of suitable processes. Used effectively they can help reduce the cost of transfer, and in the case of Open Source solutions lead to a well managed, distributable solution that is cost effective and will have impact.

The ICT4D community has an opportunity to address these issues in a systematic manner. In seeking to support the production of quality cost effective solutions there is much that can be done together to map the availability of necessary components for localisation. The availability of available text to speech engines, word prediction tools and algorithms, speech recognition API’s and symbols for communication all provide the bulding blocks upon which new solutions can be built. Where such direct tools do not yet exist then there is a need to stimulate the production of the resources upon which these are built. Frequency of words lists in the form of a usable corpus are essential and the work of language communities to build a shareable phonetic speech corpus is an excellent example of the ways in which research can directly impact upon the creation of solutions.

Such building blocks significantly reduce the cost of localisation. They directly engage language and cultural communities in the production of products and they stimulate local innovation and development. The use of Open licences for such resources can do much to enable digital empowerment for people with a disability. Sharing the availability of research and resources can accelerate that process significantly.

Information and Communication Technologies: resolving inequalities

It was great to be invited to give a lecture in the Societat Catalana de Geografia in Barcelona on the subject of “Information and Communication Technologies: resolving inequalities?” on Tuesday 4th October in the Ciclo de Conferencias Programa Jean Monnet convened by my great friend Prof. Jordi Marti Henneberg on the theme of Los Desafîos de lintegración Europea.  This was such an honour, especially since I had the privilege of following the former President of the European Union Josep Borrell’s excellent lecture earlier in the day on El Brexit y sus consequencias en la goberabilidad de la Unión Europea.

lectureThis was an opportunity for me to explore the relevance to the European context of some of my ideas about ICTs and inequality gleaned from research and practice in Africa and Asia.  In essence, my argument was that we need to balance the economic growth agenda with much greater focus on using ICTs to reduce inequalities if we are truly to use ICTs to support greater European integration.  To do this, I concluded by suggesting  that we need to concentrate on seven key actions:

  • working with the poor rather than for the poor
  • pro-poor technological innovation – not the “next billion” but the “first” billion
  • governments have a  key role to play through the use of regulation as facilitation in the interests of the poor and marginalised
  • crafting of appropriate multi-sector partnerships
  • managing security and resilience against the dark side
  • enhancing learning and understanding, both within governments and by individuals
  • working with the most disadvantaged, people with disabilities, street children, and women in patriarchal societies

UNESCO/Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah prize for Digital Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities

Just to note that there is a new deadline of 14th October 2016 for nominations for the 2016 UNESCO/ Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah prize for Digital Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities http://en.unesco.org/prizes/digital-empowerment – do please consider applying or suggest nominations.  It is a great opportunity to raise the profile of institutional and individual successes in using ICTs to empower people with disabilities, and thereby share good practices that can help to enhance accessibility and empower people with disabilities.

ICTs empowering people with disabilities

People with disabilities are amongst the most marginalised people in the world, especially in some of the poorer countries of Africa and Asia.  Yet, those with greater disabilities can be empowered far more through the appropriate use of ICTs than can those who claim to have no disabilities.  The global community needs to do very much more to develop appropriate policies and practices to ensure that people with disabilities are not further marginalised because they are unable to access and use ICTs effectively.  To this end, I am developing a small website that provides information and useful links for all those working on ICTs and disabilities – do visit https://disabilityict4d.wordpress.com/ – and more importantly please share information about this hugely important agenda.

Tim